Scottish flats see fire safety funding

Scottish flats see fire safety funding

BOTH FALKIRK and Fife councils have invested in replacing combustible cladding and fitting fire safety features, after Scottish building fire safety law changed.

In September 2017, council owned blocks in Fife were to receive sprinkler systems in bin stores as well as direct alarm links to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS). Fife Council aimed to ‘improve fire safety standards in all of its tower blocks’ post Grenfell, ‘enhanced’ safety protection including additional escape routes and replacement of some fire doors.

More fire safety checks and ‘regular fire safety training’ for caretakers and concierge staff were also to be introduced, and sprinklers being retrofitted within apartments or flats was ‘being looked at’, but was ‘ultimately a matter for the UK and Scottish governments to determine’. The high rises were ‘considered safe’ and met ‘all fire precautions’ required, but since Grenfell the council had moved ‘towards enhanced fire safety standards’.

That work had been set for completion by June 2018, but in September that year the council had to state that the cladding was safe, despite some ‘not meeting’ government recommendations on fire safety. Prior to that, the blocks in Fife had been found to have high pressure laminate (HPL) cladding, later recommended to be removed nationwide in certain combinationsIt was also reported that Falkirk had 11 high rises clad in HPL.

SFRS chiefs ‘moved to reassure the public’ after appliances were redeployed, and John Mills, Fife Council’s head of housing, stated that all its cladding systems ‘met current building standards’ and were ‘either fire retardant or fire resistant’. Eight of the 12 high rises were clad between 2012 and 2015, and included the Broomhead Drive, Dunfermline, Ravenscraig and Kirkclady blocks, as well as Swan Court and Memorial Court in Buckhaven.

Falkirk Herald has now reported that cladding will be replaced on Glenfuir Court at a cost of £1m, while new smoke and heat detectors in all of the town’s council owned flats will be replaced for £2m. The council had delayed work on the cladding ‘until they knew the outcome’ of the Scottish government’s inquiry into fire safety, with all of the flats – ‘most of which are home to elderly residents’ – checked post Grenfell and found to meet safety standards.

The government inquiry ‘imposed even stricter fire safety rules’ on high rises, with upgrade works to ‘take approximately two years to design, procure and install’ according to a spokesperson. Fife meanwhile is seeing around £4.5m spent on fire safety improvements across 12 local authority run blocks, though The Courier warned ‘lives are being put at risk by landlords who have failed to replace fire doors’ in privately owned blocks.

Formal notice letters have been sent to property owners after 54 failures were identified at Ravenscraig Flats relating to ‘non-compliant’ 15 minute fire doors, with the council planning to install one hour fire resistant doors in individual properties. It added that ‘reluctant landlords’ have a month to respond before enforcement action was taken, with those ‘failing to comply’ to be reported as ‘not fit-and-proper persons, for further investigation’.

Mr Mills said it ‘had proved difficult’ tracking down property owners, but that the council will encourage them to participate in improvement works. He noted on the council owned blocks that 35 measures identified in a 43 point action plan post Grenfell had been completed, and while delays to laundrette and sprinkler improvements in high risk areas had occurred, ‘discussion are continuing’ with power and water authorities, and changes are due to be completed by early next year.

BBC News added that the council owned blocks had seen SFRS involved in enhancing safety, with extra work including new fire doors, signs, ventilation improvements, fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Mr Mills stated: ‘Grenfell was an unspeakable tragedy and we will never forget the lives lost and the terrible impact it had.

‘Here in Fife we’ve been working with our tenants to reassure them that they are safe in their homes and backed that up with rigorous testing and inspections to underline the safety of the materials used to clad our buildings. Our buildings are safe and meet current Building Standards requirements in Scotland. However we are not complacent in relation to the need for effective fire safety and we are working to enhance standards beyond the current building standards requirements.

‘We’ve visited all of our tenants and residents to offer face to face advice and discussions about any concerns and it’s been heartening to hear that people are reassured.’

Judy Hamilton, chairwoman of the council’s community and housing services committee, added: ‘I very much welcome this investment in our high-rise blocks of flats immediately after the Grenfell tragedy. Following the horror of Grenfell, we pulled together a team and worked closely with tenants and residents in each tower block to improve standards and to reassure them that our buildings meet all the current standards.

‘Their safety and security has been my highest priority and I would like to thank staff across the council, and [SFRS] for their swift response. A public inquiry into the Grenfell tragedy is ongoing and we stand ready to implement its findings, to ensure the highest standards in our multi-storey flats for our tenants and residents.’